Monday, March 26, 2012

Another Pseudo-Educator Defames Those of Us Who Actually Do Something.

So, there was this op-ed piece in the Washington Post a couple days ago, entitled “Do college professors work hard enough?.” After I finally stopped laughing, I realized that the author, one David C. Levy, was actually serious. Really, he was. He actually argues that escalating tuition costs are the product of faculty salaries, not the fact that administrative positions are multiplying faster than a particularly horny warren of rabbits (and at absurdly high salaries relative to faculty), that services from psychological counseling to high-end computer access are now de rigeur, that new student centers and recreation facilities are sprouting faster than zits on prom night, and that states are myopically slashing their support for higher education even while wailing about how expensive college is.

The problem with giving a forum to misinformed and arrogant cretins like Levy, of course, is that people who don’t know anything about what the professoriate does don’t realize that he doesn’t have a clue, either. He’s currently the president of something called the Cambridge Information Group (a “family-owned management and investment firm,” according to their website), and he’s a former chancellor of the New School University. He also headed the Parsons School of Design for two decades. Pretty impressive, huh? Well… sort of. He hasn’t been associated directly with an institution of higher learning in quite a while, never (as far as I can tell) at a state university, and if he ever set foot in a classroom on my side of the lectern, it was a). forty years ago, and b). not worthy of mention on his official bio. In other words, to say that Dr. Levy knows shit from apple butter about what professors do is roughly akin to saying the CEO of McDonald’s knows what it’s like to be a chef—hey, he’s successful in the restaurant business, right?

Levy is, in short, every real professor’s nightmare: the poseur, the self-proclaimed “career-long academic” who couldn’t find his way to a classroom with a guide dog, and who pretends that his (apparently considerable) skill as an administrator has anything to do with what my colleagues and I actually do. I am reminded of a former dean, whom I knew was going to be trouble when he informed me that he understood what theatre faculty are like because he’d once written a chancel drama for his church. Certainly there are some university presidents and provosts and deans (oh my!) who had previously prospered in the classroom: my father was one, my current provost another. But I fear they’re the exception.

None of this is to say that Dr. Levy’s commentary ought automatically to be discarded, any more that you, Gentle Reader, ought to ignore my commentary on fracking because I’m not a geologist. No, it’s not Levy’s lack of specific expertise that deserves derision: it’s the fact that he doesn’t have a fucking clue is sadly, perhaps willfully, misinformed about virtually everything he says.

Let’s start with the basic assertion that “Happily, senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000, roughly in line with the average incomes of others with advanced degrees.” Dr. Levy, it’s really rude not to share whatever the hell it is you’re smoking… because you are seriously out to lunch. I am a tenured full professor (one becomes “senior faculty” at the associate professor level, one step down from my current rank) at a state university. I have a PhD and a little over 20 years of full-time teaching experience, plus another several years of part-time teaching, both as a teaching assistant (with full responsibility for my courses) and as an adjunct faculty member. The low end of that salary range would represent better than a 25% raise for me.

True, I work at a teaching-oriented university (a.k.a. not a “Research 1” institution), and in a field that doesn’t pay terribly well compared with the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines. But there are a lot of people like me: far more than community college profs making $88K. I mean, seriously, Dave, do a little damned homework.

What is particularly offensive in Levy’s screed is the suggestion that whereas faculty at research institutions might actually do some work, the rest of us clearly don’t:
But we all should object when they receive these [“upper-middle-class”] salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers….

An executive who works a 40-hour week for 50 weeks puts in a minimum of 2,000 hours yearly. But faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend only 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom. Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation, their workload is still only 36 to 45 percent of that of non-academic professionals. Yet they receive the same compensation….

…the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Seriously, how can anyone this stupid feed himself, let alone be placed in a position of authority? He does, of course, have the advantage of blissful ignorance, having apparently never set foot on the campus of such an institution.

I’d be willing to bet that I’ve never spent a year on a full-time faculty in which I worked less than 2500 hours, and I know for a fact I’ve topped 3000 several times. “The unlikely event” that I spend as much time grading and prepping as physically in the classroom? What planet is this guy from? I generally spend about an hour and a half or two hours of prep for every hour in class… it’s that low compared to many of my peers because I’ve been doing this a while, and I occasionally (gasp!) re-cycle old notes without updating them. Not much has changed about the history of the ancient Greek theatre since last year. (By the way: when a book came out 20 years or so ago that really did change the way we looked at Greek theatre… yeah, I published a review on that.)

The foregoing number does not include grading, by the way. That adds another ten hours or so a week, on average, to my workload. I’ve also got about 30 advisees. Because I take my advising responsibilities seriously, that’s another 100 hours a year or so in formal advising, probably three times that in informal advising. I spend probably 50 hours a year writing recommendations, another 100 in meetings, another 100 preparing for those meetings. I direct a show most years: 200 hours. And then there’s recruiting, supervising student productions, seeing all 30 productions my department produces in a year (yes, I enjoy it, but it’s still work), advanced preparation for courses (not included above), serving on committees and in elected positions in my professional organization, reading shows for possible production down the road… oh, and I really do need to publish and present with some regularity, even here in the hinterlands. Oh, and reading books and journals just to stay current in the field. So much for all that “time off” in summers and such.

If I in fact worked a 2000-hour year for the $80K that’s at the low end of Levy’s scale for senior faculty, let alone for full professors, it would represent a raise of about 55-60% in terms of my hourly wage. If Dr. Levy would be willing to arrange that, I sure would appreciate it. Somehow, however, I doubt that’s gonna happen.

The point is this: judging how much a professor works based on how much time is spent literally in the classroom is akin to judging the workload of that “executive” Dr. Levy is perfectly willing to grant a 2000-hour workload based on how much time s/he spends in formal meetings. No agenda, no credit. Colleague comes by to discuss an idea for two hours? If it’s not in your Blackberry, it doesn’t count. Spend the evening working out a problem? No documentation, then it didn’t happen.

So, I hereby challenge you, Dr. Levy, to follow me around for a week. I’ll do the work; you just sit and watch. Let’s start on a Saturday. If you’re still with me on Wednesday afternoon, I’ll tip my hat to you. Stay with me until Friday and I’ll buy you dinner and offer a formal apology. But if, you sorry sack of equine excrement, I run you into the ground, as I fully expect that I will (and as I’m dead certain that some of my friends and colleagues in the profession would), you will kindly STFU for the rest of your days about subjects you don’t begin to comprehend.

David C. Levy would be a strong contender for a Curmie Award, but unfortunately, he’s not eligible. That distinction is reserved for educators who embarrass their profession. Dr. Levy is no educator. Not now, not ever. And I, for one, am glad about that.

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